The story is a century old. It has been passed along from generation to generation by the elders in a secluded Indian village along the southeastern Alaskan shore.
The year was 1882 when the village medicine man was accidently killed on his job at a whaling company. His fellow employes--the entire town of Angoon--refused to work unless they got 200 blankets from the company as compensation for his death--and until they had completed their mourning.
They never got their blankets. Instead, villagers say, they were attacked by the U.S. Navy for refusing to return to work. Six children were killed in the siege.
Now, a century later, the descendants of the victims want to settle the score.
They want a formal apology from the U.S. Navy. And, while they're at it, the Angoonians would like a ship to be named after their town.
Now, naming a vessel after a place--that's no big deal for the Navy. They have about 15 ships to christen each year and Angoon will just be added to the list of "hundreds of possible names," said a Navy spokesman.
But a formal apology for an alleged massacre that occurred a century ago--that's another story.
"A letter will probably be forthcoming," said Capt. Norman Mayo, assistant to the assistant naval secretary, after a meeting with the Angoonians. "But," he quickly amended, "it won't be a letter of apology."
After having won $90,000 in an out-of-court settlement from the Department of the Interior and 23,000 acres via the state Plains Settlement Act, the Angoonians this week sent a delegation of four to plead their case at the Pentagon.
"The bottom line of what we're looking for is respect," said Royal DeAsis, secretary of the Kootznoowoo Heritage Foundation, which officially represents the Angoonian citizenry. "We're looking for some demonstration of the maturation of this country."
But they're also seeking financial support for an elaborate $2.5 million project to rebuild their town as a potential tourist attraction.
"We're going to Williamsburg to see how they did it," said Eve Reckley of the public relations firm representing the township. "We know that when people come to Angoon, they're coming for something different from the Hilton."
A sleek, 62-page brochure presents a cost analysis of the proposed $1 million to be spent on 14 tribal houses. Poster-size line drawings depict the three Indian totem poles that will cost an estimated $56,000 to carve and erect. The foundation is also soliciting $150,000 to produce a documentary film about the 1882 raid.
So far, they have submitted several grant applications to the National Endowment of the Arts and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as 15 or so letters of solicitation to possible contributors. "Both Adele Auchincloss and Laurance Rockefeller have demonstrated interest in us," said Reckley.
Although much has already been said and done, recent naval interest in response to the claims is now somewhat clouded by concern over who actually did what to whom in the alleged 1882 massacre.
While the Angoonians cite the Navy as the major proponent of the attack, Navy spokesman Capt. John Dewey said, "We think it was really a cutter from what is now known as the Coast Guard."